In the face of dipping oil prices - Nigeria's official exchange rate has slumped over 20 per cent in the last year to about 198 naira for a dollar, according to Thomson Reuters' data. In a bid to defend its currency, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in June blocked imports of 41 items, including private jets, toothpicks and rice.
CNBC Africa used rice from the list as a case study to examine the impact of this policy almost two months after it was implemented.
Rice was selected as it is Nigeria’s top staple food and according to Akinwumi Adesina, who will become Africa Development Bank's president in September and was Nigeria's former agricultural minister, the country spends over 350 billion naira annually importing rice. This is as a result of local production failing to meet demand; Nigeria consumed 5 million metric tonnes of rice last year, while importing 2 million metric tonnes to meet demand for the staple food. Some reasons for the shortfall range from the quality of grains produced locally to a lack of support for local rice farmers.
As part of CNBC Africa’s study we visited local markets and noticed the preference was not for locally produced rice – there was hardly a Nigerian bag of rice in sight; speaking to some traders in the market we found that they perceive local rice to be more expensive.
According to commentators CNBC Africa spoke to the problem appears to be the quality and perception of locally processed rice. For example, Ifeato Onejeme, commissioner of industry, trade and investment in Anambra state says, “there is rice growing at various places in Nigeria, I think where we lost it is in the quality standards.”
To solve this problem Afam Mbanefo, commissioner for agriculture, Anambra state, thinks local farmers need to be supplied with the necessary tools and preferred seeds, so that they plant them and get the proper yield to be able to sell it to the processors.
Onejeme says he prefers the locally produced rice but adds that some challenges exist in the processing of the grain – like the stones found in it, “You don’t want to go see the dentist after you have had a meal of rice.
“I think if we are able to provide real state of the art milling, equipment that can destone, that can sort out the rice.”
Onejeme also believes the country's borders need to be controlled and government needs to take more action.
“What have you done about the borders, can people still smuggle the rice into Nigeria? If there is demand, if people have money and they want foreign rice they will pay for it once it comes into Nigeria,” said Onejeme.
Although it is too soon to judge how successful CBN’s policy will be in making the West African nation self-sufficient in rice, by following the advice of those CNBC Africa spoke to; the country may yet reverse its dependence on imports of the staple food.